A Bozeman Republican is suing Gov. Steve Bullock and Attorney General Tim Fox in the latest effort to weaken confidential settlement agreements between state employees and the agencies they sue.
Bozeman attorney and former state lawmaker Matthew Monforton filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Helena on Friday, seeking to undo a confidentiality agreement between his client and the judge she sued.
Monforton’s client, Britt Long, is a former clerk and standing master for retired Judge E. Wayne Phillips, in the 10th Judicial District, which covers Fergus, Judith Basin, and Petroleum counties.
Long said she is barred from publishing criticisms of Phillips due to a settlement agreement she signed in 2013, after alleging Phillips slapped her on the butt with a folder.
Long, now a New Jersey resident, wishes to disclose complaints about Phillips relayed to her from two other women but said the settlement agreement prohibits her from doing so. According to her lawsuit, Long wants to discuss the complaints in a book and scholarly articles she is pursuing on state level judicial ethics.
The lawsuit asks the court to declare enforcement of Long’s settlement agreement with the state unconstitutional.
It also seeks an injunction barring Bullock or Fox from enforcing the 2013 settlement agreement.
“Hopefully this lawsuit will lead to the state’s hush money payments to employees who have witnessed misconduct by state officials being abrogated and no longer enforceable,” Monforton said.
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The lawsuit names Bullock, citing his authority to direct executive branch agencies to seek legal relief.
It also names Fox, whose department oversees the Agency Legal Services Bureau, which provides legal counsel to state agencies.
Bullock, a Democrat, is running for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States. The Republican Fox is running for governor. Neither Bullock nor Fox were sworn into office yet at the time the settlement was reached in 2013.
“This 2011 case involves an employee of the judicial branch, a separate branch of government," said Marissa Perry, Bullock's communications director, in an email. "It’s not clear what this lawsuit has to do with the governor or the attorney general."
John Barnes, spokesperson for Fox’s office, said the attorney general does not comment on pending litigation.
Republicans sought major reforms of the settlement practices during the 2019 Legislature, but Bullock vetoed their bill. He then signed an executive order passing a scaled-back version of the reforms.
According to a Legislative Audit Division memo, the state paid out $1.2 million between 2003 and 2012 in settlements with state employees. From 2013 to 2017, it paid $2.6 million.
Bullock’s administration said the numbers were based on faulty data and prepared a memo in response to the figures. That memo said total settlement dollars, average settlement amount and the number of settlements per year have overall trended downward since 2013, when Bullock was sworn in.